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Mississippi laws and lists

There’s very little that’s as useful genealogically as a school census. Putting children together into a household, particularly in a non-regular-census year, can be the clue we’re looking for when we’re trying to establish relationships or locate missing members of the family.

And school census records exist a lot farther back than we sometimes suspect.

Case in point: the Mississippi record set known as the Educable Children Records.

MDAH.schoolAccording to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH), there are the earliest set of records there predates the Civil War:

Series 105, dating 1850-1894, contains lists prepared by counties and filed with the Secretary of State. The 1850 and 1851 lists include only the head of the household and the number of white or free black children by gender. The 1878 lists include the name of the child, age, gender, race, and election district or ward. The 1879 and 1880 lists do not have the election district/ward information. The 1885 lists add the name of the parent or guardian. The 1892 lists add the street and house number (where recorded), but are divided by race within each township and range. No schools are named in any of the lists.1

Now think about that 1892 list for a minute — and think about what generally doesn’t exist in the United States: the 1890 U.S. census was largely destroyed in a fire in January 1923.2 That alone can suggest just how useful these records can be.

But the name of the record set raises a question: just what exactly does it mean to be an educable child?

If we think about it as simply a matter of semantics, we might think it was any child capable of being educated. But this was, as is so often the case, a defined term.

And the definition comes from the law.

What happened in Mississippi was that a statute was passed in 1850 to provide financial help for local schools and to encourage some of the counties that had lagged behind in creating schools to do so.

The law, “An Act to promote Common Schools in the several counties in this State,” allocated some $200,000 to be distributed to the counties “in proportion to the number of free white children in each county, over six and under twenty years of age,”3 And to come up with those numbers, the county tax assessors were directed “to make an accurate enumeration of all the free white children in their respective counties, who are over six and under twenty years of age…”4

After the Civil War, the law changed to include all children, not just all white children, and the ages for school eligibility changed to all children between age 5 and age 215 though the enumeration ages didn’t change.

Oh, and don’t forget to look at the later records. There’s another record set from the 20th century:

Series 21, dating 1906-1965, contains lists prepared by the Superintendent of Education in each county and filed with the Department of Education. The lists are arranged by school within the county and thereunder by parents’ names. In addition to parents’ and students’ names, information on the lists includes age, gender, reason for withdrawal from school, status in school, whether the student was subject to the compulsory attendance law, and a general address. Students between the ages of 6 and 20 were included in these lists. Most reports contain a recapitulation sheet listing the names of schools within the county and number of students at each school.6

“Students between the ages of 6 and 20.” Educable children. Great records.


SOURCES

  1. “Educable Children Records (Mississippi), 1850-1894; 1906-1965,” Mississippi Department of Archives and History (http://mdah.state.ms.us/ : accessed 9 Mar 2016).
  2. See Kellee Blake, “‘First in the Path of the Firemen’: The Fate of the 1890 Population Census,” Prologue Magazine (Spring 1996, Vol. 28, No. 1), NARA (http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/ : accessed 9 Mar 2016).
  3. §1, “An Act to promote Common Schools in the several counties in this State,” Chapter 8, Laws of the State of Mississippi … 1850 (Jackson : State Printers, 1850), 67; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 9 Mar 2016).
  4. Ibid., §2.
  5. See Mississippi Constitution of 1869, Article VIII, Section 1.
  6. “Educable Children Records (Mississippi), 1850-1894; 1906-1965,” Mississippi Department of Archives and History (http://mdah.state.ms.us/ : accessed 9 Mar 2016).
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